South Korean Doctors Rally Against Medical School Quota Increase

SEOUL—Tens of thousands of doctors gathered in Seoul's Yeouido district on Sunday to protest the government's plan to increase medical school admissions. The rally, organized by the Korean Medical Association (KMA), the country's largest medical lobby group, highlighted the ongoing dispute between healthcare professionals and the government, which has led to a significant strike affecting general hospitals nationwide.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the protest was a response to the government's proposal to add 2,000 medical school seats starting next year, a plan that has seen thousands of trainee doctors abstain from their duties for the 13th consecutive day. The demonstrators voiced their strong opposition to the quota hike, which they argue was decided without adequate consultation with the medical community and could undermine the quality of medical education.

At the rally's outset, KMA emergency committee chief Kim Taek-woo accused the government of ignoring the medical profession's efforts to negotiate and warned of public resistance if the authorities continued to suppress doctor's voices. He urged the government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the protesting doctors to resolve the impasse.

The strike by about 9,000 medical interns and residents has led to widespread cancellations and delays in surgeries and emergency services, highlighting their critical role in the healthcare system. The government had issued an ultimatum to the striking doctors, demanding they return to work by the previous Thursday and threatening punitive measures, including possible criminal charges and the revocation of medical licenses, for non-compliance.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo addressed the situation, stating the government's obligation to act decisively to maintain medical services and protect public health. The presidential office also expressed a zero-tolerance policy towards any illegal activities associated with the protests, including allegations of doctors pressuring pharmaceutical sales representatives to participate in the rally.

In response to the controversy, police have initiated a legal review of the allegations and imposed travel bans on four KMA executives, indicating the seriousness with which the authorities are treating the matter. Interior Minister Lee Sang-min made a final appeal to the trainee doctors, offering leniency for those who returned to work by Sunday but warning of strict consequences for those who continued the strike.

Despite the government's stance that the increase in medical school admissions is necessary to meet the future demands of the bio industry, the medical community remains divided, with many doctors calling for a more consultative approach to reform. The ongoing dispute underscores the challenges facing South Korea's healthcare system and the need for a balanced solution that addresses both the development goals and the concerns of medical professionals.

scroll to top